Home>Discussions>PAINTING & FINISHING>Paint versus stain for exterior siding
10 posts / 0 new
Last post
Paint versus stain for exterior siding

We have a house built in the 1930s that's located right on a salt water bay. A basic question: should we use opaque stain or paint? What are the pros and cons of each?

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding


The main goal of any exterior coating is to shed rain water, yet be able to let the house breathe. Modern acrylic solid stains do a good job of both. The thinner coat of a stain breathes better than a full bodied paint, especially an oil paint.

Breathability is even more important on a house of the age of yours. 1930's homes typically have next to no insulation and no vapor barriers. The water vapor that everyday living generates in your home, will migrate into your wall cavities and must be able to continue migrating to the exterior. Older oil based paints and stains formed a vapor barrier on the exterior of the house. Peeling was the typically the result when the hot summer sun caused steam to form inside the wooden siding.

Modern acrylic stains and paints are also much more color fast than the older oil paints. They fade less and don't get blotchy looking.

Also, stains don't hide the texture of rouge cut siding, as does the build up of heavier bodied paints.

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding

Ordjen, your comments are very helpful.

To expand. This is a summer cottage in northern New Brunswick, Canada, sitting only about 30 feet from the high-tide line of the bay. We live here only in the summer; the house is completely closed up in the winter. I am certain that there is no insulation.

Two sides of the house have relatively new wood (pine) siding with only one coat of stain or paint - we don't know what it is. Two sides of the house have many coats of paint/stain. (my guess is the original layer from the 1930s is oil paint). A small portion has 4-year-old wood siding and a coat of acrylic stain.

Completely stripping the old stain/paint is out of the question. We will scrape as much as possible, caulk cracks, sand, and wash. Here's the level of scraping we have done --- this is about the extent of scraping we'll hope to do:

Then what? (I don't care about having the wood grain or texture show through.)

One suggestion is to use a high quality solid acrylic stain with no primer (e.g., Olympic Maximum). And based on Ordjen's comments, this approach sounds reasonable. But 4 years ago, we replaced a small amount of siding and used an acrylic stain (not Olympic). Here's a picture. I am disappointed with this performance.

A second suggestion is to a primer (most locals have suggested oil, but maybe latex would be better, given Ordjen's explanation) and then the stain.

A third suggestion is to use a primer and then acrylic paint.

A fourth suggestion is to use Benjamin Moore Aura exterior paint with no primer.

This is a large cottage, and I dread doing the wrong thing!

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding

howdy, im just over in nova scotia, your siding looks like its cape cod brand wood siding. if it is their product your better off painting it. cape cod specifically uses lodgepole pine which they mill then it gets pressure treated from there they hit it with one coat of primer then a coat of finish paint. they use a breathable acrylic at that

another thing is if it is cape cod they specifically ask for a proper rain screen to be installed, another thing is based on the condition of the paint on the newer siding shown, there is no rain screen. if there was one the chance of peeling would be greatly reduced

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding


Whereas, I do advocate acylic housepaints and stains, I do still prefer oil based primers. I feel they penetrate into the grain of the wood better. I frequently used Cabot's stains. Cabot's recommends oil primer under their stains. If I were in your position, I would opt toward using an oil primer tinted toward your finish color, and a finish coat of acylic stain.

I am surprised that you have experienced such peeling when your house is not occupied in winter. It is in winter that vapor transfer is most prevalent. In winter an occupied house is closed up tight, even as moisture is generated inside. In summer, especially in a mild climate such as yours, the windows are open and air is freely being exchanged.

Extensive peeling to bare wood is a sure sign of moisture or vapor involvement. My question is then where the moisture is being generated? What kind of foundation does your house have? Is the basement or crawl space very moist? If a crawl space, does it have a vapor barrier on grade? Are the walls of balloon construction, i.e. long open wall cavities without firestops from the basement to the roof?

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding

the key thing with paint peeling on wood siding is yes vapour transfer, however the best proven method to get rid of it is by installing a rain screen. i do alot of siding installs most of which are harti or wood siding. all the manufacturers of these products specifically state that a rain screen is required both to warrenty the product but also by code.

the reason being any water that gets behind the siding is now enabled to run down the wall freely behind the siding and then dry. air flows behind the siding so both the face and back dry at an even rate. when no air space is present the water thats trapped behind will be forced to make its way out through the siding when the sun hits it, this causes paint to blister. its a very well documented fact that rain screen's prevent this

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding

Judging by the pictures of the house, I doubt the problem is with externalwater sources from bad caulking or outright leaks. It is too widespread. A leak would be morlocal to the leak.

I would agree that a rain screen such as Tyvek with battens upon which the siding is nailed would be ideal. It certainly would allow the siding to air out. However, the realities is that such a situation would not exist on a 1930's era house. More than likely, the siding is nialed right over tar paper. Older homes also even used rosin paper for such a barrier!

A good primer and acrylic stain would allow the siding to breathe much better than a heavier bodied paint. Of course, it is not addressing the underlying problem of where the moisture vapor is coming from?

I would still investigate how moisture is entering the wall cavity. I remember a home I did several years ago which exhibited extensive peeling on the lower exterior walls. It was an exact duplicate of a Colnial Williamsburg house. It was build on a high brick foundation with about 4 feet of brick exposed to the elements. When I would throw a glass of water on the brick, it would all be absorbed. Apparently the moisture from rain was being passed into the wall cavity. The peeling did not generally extend above windows or above the horizontal braces half way up the studs. My advice to the owner was too periodically water seal the brick to prevent water absorbtion.

I have seen a similar situation where brick passed water into a wall cavity and the foil wall paper inside prevented it from drying out. All the interior drywall had to be replaced along with the insulation!

As I stated in my last post, I would look at the foundation and how the wall cavities are situated. Is it "balloon" construction with the cavities open to the basement or crawl space? Is the basement or crawl space very damp? Is there a vapor barrier on grade if there is a crawl space?

Just food for thought.

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.

First, jkirk, the siding is not cape cod brand; it's just plain old pine siding! Some of the siding dates from 1937; a small amount dates from 2006; and some of the siding dates from around 1995-2000.

The 2006-siding part of the house has a type of wood sheathing, then Tyvek, then the siding, and then the acrylic stain. But that's peeling too - as you can see in the picture of the upstairs. On the north side of the house (no picture) where there was new siding and Tyvek in 2006, it looks like there's some mildew starting.

I am sure that the rest of the house has no vapor barrier at all.

And this house does not have a basement or even a crawl space - Here is a picture - it's kind of amazing:

And - although I haven't looked under the house, I doubt that there is a vapor barrier between the ground and the floor.

And I am guessing that the walls are balloon construction - how could I tell?

This year we are going to scrape, caulk, clean, and probably stain the parts of the house shown in the pictures.

If these walls deteriorate by next year, we'll have to seriously consider residing the entire house - removing all the old siding, putting up sheathing, Tyvek, and then either Hardy board or cedar shakes --- and probably doing something about a vapor barrier under the house. But that's such an extensive proposition, we want to see if we can solve the stain/paint problem first!

Thanks to everyone.

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding
sooky wrote:

We have a house built in the 1930s that's located right on a salt water bay. A basic question: should we use opaque stain or paint? What are the pros and cons of each?

you can have UV protection in both. i don't know if the salt water makes much of a difference unless it is in floating on the water then you'd need a heavy epoxy with high concentrations of solids to prevent salt damage like boats. http://www.topsecretcoatings.com has some excellent stains and silicon epoxy paints i'd recommend. don't go to home depot they have watered down products that peel off.

another thought, with increased moisture wood it contracts and expands a stain might work better so the wood doesn't peel. you may want to try http://www.10yeardeckpaint.com/ they are environmentally good too or http://www.aquapoxy.com

Re: Paint versus stain for exterior siding

being very near salt water can affect the siding and its finish.

the general i work for has had to completely strip the water side of homes facing salt water do to the salt react with finish and especially the fasteners, and even house wrap. on a few homes the sheathing was even rotting because the salt water destroyed the water proofing of tyvek

if you do reside, specify stainless steel fasteners only, no galvanized nails for the siding. galvanized fasteners will start to bleed within a year which will stain the siding

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.